Monday, 11 January 2010

I just signed another petition

This one:

Petition to remove the provisions set out in the Equality Bill relating to sex, marriage and sexual orientation for the purposes of organised religion

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Remove the current employment provisions set out in Schedule 9, Paragraph 2, subsection 8 of the Equality Bill (the occupational requirements relating to sex, marriage and sexual orientation for the purposes of organised religion). These restrict the rights of religious bodies to employ personnel who conform to their teachings only if their duties are confined to worship activities or the explanation of doctrine. More details

Submitted by david skinnner – Deadline to sign up by: 05 April 2010

HT: The Ugley Vicar.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Five interesting testimonies

I am always fascinated to hear about the ways in which God has worked in people’s lives to draw them to himself.  Every such story is interesting (and, moreover, a cause for rejoicing), and so perhaps the title of this post is badly chosen.  But I choose to retain it because these are all testimonies with which I particularly identify in some way or other.  I hope that many of my readers will feel the same way.

1) Escape from nihilism by J. Budziszewski

J. Budziszewski is a professor of Philosophy and Government at the University of Texas at Austin.

When some people flee from God they rob and kill. When others flee from God they do a lot of drugs and have a lot of sex. When I fled from God I didn't do any of those things; my way of fleeing was to get stupid. Though it always comes as a surprise to intellectuals, there are some forms of stupidity that one must be highly intelligent and educated to commit. God keeps them in his arsenal to pull down mulish pride, and I discovered them all. That is how I ended up doing a doctoral dissertation to prove that we make up the difference between good and evil and that we aren't responsible for what we do. I remember now that I even taught these things to students; now that's sin.

It was also agony. You cannot imagine what a person has to do to himself--well, if you are like I was, maybe you can--what a person has to do to himself to go on believing such nonsense. […]

Visualize a man opening up the access panels of his mind and pulling out all the components that have God's image stamped on them. The problem is that they all have God's image stamped on them, so the man can never stop. No matter how much he pulls out, there's still more to pull. I was that man. Because I pulled out more and more, there was less and less that I could think about. But because there was less and less that I could think about, I thought I was becoming more and more focussed. Because I believed things that filled me with dread, I thought I was smarter and braver than the people who didn't believe them. I thought I saw an emptiness at the heart of the universe that was hidden from their foolish eyes. Of course I was the fool.

2) How I came to faith by William Lane Craig

William Lane Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California.

I became very bitter toward the institutional church because of the phoniness that I thought it represented […] I began to read the New Testament […] and as I did so I was absolutely captivated by the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  There was a wisdom about his teaching that I had never encountered before, and there was an authenticity about his life that wasn’t characteristic of [some of] his followers […] I realised at that point that I couldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

3) Quam dilecta by Peter van Inwagen

Peter van Inwagen is John Cardinal O'Hara Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame.

There is, I believe, an identifiable and cohesive historical phenomenon that named itself the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, and which, although it long ago abandoned the name, still exists. Like the Church, it does not speak with one voice. Like the Church, it has no central government. Like the Church, it is made up of many groups some of which heartily detest many of the others--some of which, indeed, regard themselves as its sole true representatives and all others who claim to be its representatives as wolves in sheep's clothing. Like the Church, it has a creed, although, unlike the Church's creeds, its creed has never received an official formulation. […]

The Enlightenment has had its chance with me and I have found it wanting. I was once one of its adherents, and now I am an apostate. On the level of intellectual argument and evidence, it leaves a lot to be desired. And its social consequences have been horrible.

I am going to compare the attractiveness of the Church and the Enlightenment. I will group my comparisons into three parts. First, it seems to me, the teachings of the Church are, as I shall say, "congruent" with the facts of science and history in a way that the "creed" of the Enlightenment is not, and I shall discuss this. Secondly, I shall compare the "fruits" of the Church with the fruits of the Enlightenment. Thirdly, I shall compare the effects of adherence to the Church and to the Enlightenment in the lives of individuals.

4) A surprising discovery by Anne Rice

Anne Rice is the author of the hugely successful Vampire Chronicles and many other books.

I had taken in a lot of fashionable notions about Jesus—that he’d been oversold, that the Gospels were “late” documents, that we really didn’t know anything about him, that violence and quarrelling marked the movement of Christianity from its start. I’d acquired many books on Jesus, and the filled the shelves of my office. […]

What gradually came clear to me was that many of the skeptical arguments—arguments that insisted most of the Gospels were suspect, for instance, or written too late to be eyewitness accounts—lacked coherence.  They were not elegant. Arguments about Jesus himself were full of conjecture. Some books were no more than assumptions piled upon assumptions. Absurd conclusions were reached on the basis of little or no data at all.

In sum, the whole case for the nondivine Jesus who stumbled into Jerusalem and somehow got crucified by nobody and had nothing to do with the founding of Christianity and would be horrified by it if he knew about it—that the whole picture which has floated in the liberal circles I frequented as an atheist for thirty years—that case was not made. Not only was it not made. I discovered in this field some of the worst and most biased scholarship I’d ever read.

5) I am second by Brian ‘Head’ Welch

Brian Welch was formerly the guitarist for (and a founding member of) the multiplatinum nu-metal band KoRn, and is now a solo artist.

I felt so much fatherly love from heaven, and it was like ‘I don’t condemn you; I love you’.  It was just love.  And instantly that love from God came into me. […] It changed me – my heart was changed like that.

My dream came true way more than I dreamt about. […] I tried everything to try to get pleasure out of this life, and I thought that I could fulfil my life with all this stuff, having my dream come true.  It came true, but it didn’t fulfil it.  And Christ came in, that feeling he gives you: the gift of understanding life, which is that everything was created for Christ and by him, and we’re created to be with him.  And it’s the most incredible feeling because you’re where you belong.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

When all you have is a book on fallacies…

A dear friend gave me How to win every argument: The use and abuse of logic (London: Continuum, 2007) by Madsen Pirie as a Christmas gift. It is possible that the friend in question will read this blog post (hi D!), so I should begin by stressing that I am very pleased with the gift and that I will certainly continue to read it despite the infuriating flaw in it that I am about to describe. In fact, I am touched by the gesture, since, according to a ‘publisher’s warning’ on the back cover, ‘In the wrong hands this book is very dangerous […] Only buy this book as a gift if you are sure that you can trust the recipient’. It is good to be trusted.

The aim of the book is to provide a list of formal and informal logical fallacies often seen in argument, with descriptions and examples. One of the fallacies listed is the ‘conclusion which denies premises’, about which Pirie has the following to say:

The conclusion which denies its premises constantly slips uninvited into religious arguments. People are so used to thinking of divine beings as exceptions to every rule that they tend to use the word ‘everything’ when they mean ‘everything except God’.

Everything must have a cause. That, in turn, must have a previous cause. Since it cannot go back forever, we know that there must be an uncaused causer to start the process.

(But if everything must have a cause, how can there be such a thing as an uncaused causer?)

The fallacy has a most distinguished history, being used (although not identified as such) by Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas among many others. It has many faces. The ‘uncaused causer’ can be a ‘first cause’ or even a ‘first mover’. It can be reworded in many ways, but never without fallacy. (p 36)

Here’s a task for my readers: find a point in either Aristotle or Aquinas where either makes anything like as boneheaded an argument as is attributed to him here. Collaboration is allowed, although I wouldn’t expect much help from Dr. Pirie himself. One area in which he is helpful, though, is in his exposition of the straw man fallacy:

The straw man is, in short, a misrepresentation of your opponent’s position […] Like the ignorati elenchi society he belongs to, he is totally beside the point. His function is to elicit, by the ease of his demolition, a scorn which can be directed at the real figure he represents. (pp 155-6)

That is what is going on in the utter travesty of the philosopher and the angelic doctor quoted above. The sad thing is that Pirie is by no means alone in this tendency, as Edward Feser points out in a highly recommended blog post:

There are surely hundreds or even thousands of philosophers who think Aquinas is guilty of various fallacies because they simply don’t understand what his arguments are really about. […]

Take what everyone “knows” to be the “basic” Cosmological Argument for God’s existence: Everything has a cause; so the universe has a cause, namely God. This argument is notoriously bad: If everything has a cause, then what caused God? And if God needn’t have had a cause, why must the universe have one? Etc. The thing is, not one of the best-known defenders of the Cosmological Argument in the history of philosophy ever gave this stupid argument. Not Plato, not Aristotle, not al-Ghazali, not Maimonides, not Aquinas, not Duns Scotus, not Leibniz, not Samuel Clarke, not Garrigou-Lagrange, not Mortimer Adler, not William Lane Craig, not Richard Swinburne. And, for that matter, not anyone else either, as far as I know. (My emphasis)

Don’t believe me (and Feser)? Then go to the relevant page of the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy and see for yourself.

Friday, 1 January 2010

01/01/10

A few scattered thoughts for the first day of the decade.

2010 and the 2010s

(In speech,) I will be referring to this year as ‘twenty ten’, not ‘two thousand ten’ or ‘two thousand and ten’, and this decade as the ‘tens’ or ‘twenty tens’, not the ‘teens’ or ‘teenies’ or whatever.  The decade with the silly name is over, and in these times of austerity is behoves us to keep things simple.  It will also help non-native English speakers no end if the system for talking about years gets back to what it was until 1999.

The falling post count: a resolution

2007: 63 posts
2008: 49
2009: 23
2010: ?

This is a cause for concern, no doubt.  I hope that the reduction in post frequency is due to my holding higher standards with regards to what I allow to appear here, although that would probably be wishful thinking.  With this in mind, I am making a new year’s resolution to blog more this year than last.  Given that I gave up blogging and blogs for Lent last year, this marks something of a turnaround.  Also: anyone who was waiting for the long-promised follow-up to my post on Jackendoff and conceptualist semantics shouldn’t lose hope just yet (although that may not appear for another few months).

Predictions

  • Argentina will win the Football World Cup (controversial…).
  • The result of the UK general election will be a hung parliament with the Conservatives the biggest party (not so controversial).
  • Absolutely nothing will be done about banking regulation, remuneration or anything else that will prevent global recessions in the future.
  • Tiger Woods will not appear in public at all if he can help it, never mind play in a major golf tournament.
  • Cadbury’s will be bought out by Kraft after all.
  • The Nobel Peace Prize will not be won by an American liberal, for once.

Final greetings

May God pour out all his blessings on you this year, this decade, and always.  Happy New Year!